Review: Velvet, Volume 2 – The Secret Lives of Dead Men by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting

Velvet CoverRocked by revelations about the worst night of her life (see Velvet, Volume 1: Before the Living End), super-spy Velvet Templeton returns to London to unravel the mystery behind the murder of one of ARC-7’s elite operatives. Naturally, things promptly go ballistic.

Thus far we’ve seen Velvet pivot and weave her way out of most confrontations. Before the Living End presented her as an uber-talented, though rusty from years behind a desk, ARC-7 field operative. She has demonstrated her tactical mind, expert hand-to-hand and small-arms combat, and the ability to think quickly on her feet. Like James Bond, when Velvet Templeton is faced with impossible odds, we expect her to escape. When all seems lost, we expect her to find her way, because that’s what the heroes of spy thrillers do.

The Secret Lives of Dead Men is so impressive because it plays with our expectations. As the story opens, Velvet is certain she’ll be able discover who has turned the agency against her. She has a plan, and as she sets about enacting it, readers feel confident in her ability. That is, until things go awry, slowly at first, then with a swiftness that’s impossible to rectify. Velvet’s seamless scheme suddenly reveals itself to be full of holes. Perhaps our hero isn’t quite the superstar we’d been lead to believe; or rather, it’s impossible to plan for every contingency, and Velvet’s assuredness might actually be a weakness.

The Secret Lives of Dead Men throws Velvet’s quest for answers into a tailspin, and Epting takes full advantage of the grandiose action set-pieces sprinkled throughout Brubaker’s script, while also maintaining his impeccable standards in the quieter moments. The plot is convoluted, but not opaque – Brubaker is the master of dangling plot threads while keeping them from knotting, and a sense of urgency is impressively maintained throughout these pages.

Nobody else in comics is capable of turning in a tighter-plotted and faster-paced thriller than Brubaker and Epting. Velvet continues to be a masterclass.

4 Stars Excellent

ISBN: 9781632152343
Format: Paperback (260mm x 171mm x mm)
Pages: 128
Imprint: Image Comics
Publisher: Image Comics
Publish Date: 2-Jun-2015
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Velvet, Volume 1 – Before the Living End by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting

Velvet Before the Living EndBesides her most recent incarnation in Skyfall, the Miss Moneypenny who has existed in more than 60 years of James Bond continuity has been entirely deskbound; a pining secretary, who absorbed 007’s innuendo and traded witticisms with the licensed-to-kill agent. For the most part, the character has been entirely disposable, save for the occasional stinging rejoinder at Bond’s expense; moments to saviour, for they were few and far between. But what if there was more to Moneypenny than the insipid qualities she routinely brandished? Skyfall opened the door to an alternative take on the secretary, and we’ll see where that goes in the franchise’s next installment – but Ed Brunaker and Steve Epting latch onto that notion and run with it full throttle. The result, this first volume of their monthly comic series Velvet, titled BEFORE THE LIVING END, is a fantastic spy-thriller, with shades of Ian Fleming’s inimitable protagonist, but stands comfortably apart on its own pedestal.

The creative partnership of Brubaker and Epting resonates in comics. Together, the writer and artist redefined Captain America, and their long run on the title has become definitive; for the foreseeable future, every creator’s take on the shield-wielding patriot will be paralleled to theirs. But VELVET allows Brubaker and Epting to break from the confines of corporate characters – there’s no holding back. Storytelling choices, both artistic and regarding script, are executed in magnificent tandem. The plot unravels with the deftness of a John le Carré novel, but punctuated with the adrenaline-fueled bursts of a Robert Ludlum or Matthew Reilly thriller, while Brubaker keeps the dialog succinct, his trademark noir vibe permeating the necessary exposition. Epting’s artwork has never looked better, his layouts carefully considered, allowing for a seamless reading experience. Character interactions are embellished with incredibly detail; emotions play across their faces with unparalleled finesse. And the action is choreographed to perfection, whether it’s hand-to-hand combat or a 007-esque car chase scene, you won’t find better execution elsewhere in comics.

BEFORE THE LIVING END throws all the elements of a successful spy story into the mix, but it never feels overtly derivative, beyond the connotations Brubaker and Epting purposefully highlight.  Set in 1973 (but with plenty of flashbacks) Velvet Templeton is an ex field agent (or “X-Operative”) turned personal assistant to the Director of the clandestine agency ARC-7. When one of the agency’s top X-Operative is killed in Paris, Velvet sits in on the debrief, and decides to personally investigate the murder – which ends up seeing her marked as the killer and a traitor. Velvet flip-flops from inactive to active in the space of twenty pages, and BEFORE THE LIVING END is propelled by her determination to find out who set her up and murdered her fellow agent.

Velvet is not the young buxom blonde one might associate with a super-spy heroine. For one thing, she’s older than that stereotype suggests – closer to her forties than her twenties – and she’s not infallible. Despite the theatrics – and there are many – Velvet is a normal-bodied agent, out of touch, and slower than she once was. As the story flits from present to past, the changes in her body and mind are demonstrated through Epting’s art. Velvet remains beautiful throughout, but the slight changes highlights the attention to detail this creative team has taken with this project.

VELVET is a fantastic new series from Image Comics, and merely the foundation of something brilliant from Brubaker and Epting. This volume’s finale has me waiting with baited breath for the next; in the interim, I guarantee I’ll enjoy more than a few re-reads of BEFORE THE LIVING END.